1. Deerhunter — “Nothing Ever Happened”
After its breakthrough 2007 album Cryptograms, paired with the haunting Fluorescent Grey EP, Deerhunter was poised to establish itself as a dominant musical force this year. The band followed through with vigor, producing Microcastle/Weird Era Cont. It seems strange to say that Deerhunter defied listeners’ expectations, considering we’ve only been given one chance to expect anything from the band, but that seems to be the best way to characterize its newest material. The band’s first single combines conventional organization, abrasive ambient and noise-rock qualities, and the painful and innocent beauty of lead man Brandon Cox’s vocals. After two minutes, however, Cox returns to his bread and butter: The song slowly recedes into three minutes of ever-increasing surges of distortion and keyboard melodies that seem all the more chaotic because of the initially traditional structure of the song.
2. Hercules and Love Affair — “Blind”
When I first heard that Antony Hegarty, with his emotionally rent, cello-like voice, was the singer of a revamped psychedelic disco album, I was extremely skeptical. Thankfully the results, and this song in particular, are nothing short of spectacular. On “Blind,” a driving bass line and restless drumbeat give an added spark to Hagarty’s otherwise fragile voice, while intermittent trumpet blasts emphasize its depth. The rest of the song is filled out with glittering and energetic waves of tones, creating a remarkable track that seems to expand and contract throughout.
3. David Byrne and Brian Eno — “Strange Overtones”
More than 20 years after their first collaboration, David Byrne and Brian Eno return in an album laden with allusions to Byrne’s career with Talking Heads. Beginning with Byrne’s wilting voice, the track moves on to delicate guitar movements that slowly emerge, duplicating his frail tone. A desperate nostalgia is subtly apparent. The chorus, however, quickly ascends to powerful, gospel-inflected heights, revealing an unmistakable enthusiasm and vitality, which we can only hope will endure.
4. Fleet Foxes — “White Winter Hymnal”
Musical newcomers Fleet Foxes’s first single is rife with the hypnotic qualities that make their album and later EP so comfortably intoxicating. It begins with layered vocals filled with the warmth and soothing qualities the band seems to exude. Then, for the next two minutes, the band allows their intricate harmonies, wordless arpeggios, and deceptively simple chord structure to cast a spell on the music community that persists for nearly all of 2008.
5. Tokyo Police Club — “Your English Is Good”
When you first listen to this song, it seems like the quintessential toe-tapper: Constant, brawny drums beat in the foreground for the majority of the song, and singer-bassist Dave Monks’s vocals rarely deviate from the prescribed rhythm. The guitars, however, provide an evenly spread gloss of distortion in between the verses, each of which ends with a tremendous drop in tempo and vitality. When the energetic pulse returns, its pace seems to have greater sonic depth, making it more than something you can bob your head to.